Eight months after the North Bay wildfires destroyed URJ Camp Newman’s Santa Rosa property, the summer camp welcomed its first cohort to its new, temporary location in Vallejo. Some 360 campers arrived at “Newman by the Bay” on June 17, coming by bus and by car, greeted with smiles and tears by staff and counselors alike.
Camp had officially begun.
“All weekend leading up to this day I have been finding myself very emotional with tears in my eyes,” said camp director Rabbi Erin Mason. “I realize that those tears are not tears of sadness or over the loss of camp, but tears of hope, pride, joy and relief. Because everything that we’ve been working on these last eight months is finally here.”
While their parents were being shown around the new location, the campers bounced around hugging each other and their counselors, shouting with the excitement of another summer together.
“For a minute, I was sad about missing certain places,” admitted Riley Hartman, 15, who is returning for his seventh year. “But I realized, camp is not about the location but the people you surround yourself with and the community we’ve built. We’ve built something bigger than a place.”
Added Jesse Brandt, 14, eager to start his eighth summer at the longtime Reform summer camp, “I’m really, really happy. There is no face that I can make right now to show you just how happy I am.”
For many of the parents, dropping off their kids at the camp’s new location at the California State University Maritime Academy was bittersweet. “This place is gorgeous — right by the water and surrounded by nature,” said Nancy Biegel, who had just said goodbye to her daughter. “But it’s not Santa Rosa, and there’s certainly a little tinge of sadness and melancholy about that. Yet you can see that the vibe of camp has just been transported from its original home to here.”
As the big day wound down, everyone gathered for a welcome ceremony where staffers asked the youngsters, “Do you know why you’re the luckiest campers in the world? Because you’re the first campers to come to Newman by the Bay!”
“These counselors, eyes bright with possibility and hearts overflowing with chesed [lovingkindness], reflected what Camp Newman/Swig/Saratoga counselors have embodied for 70 years — an assuredness that they could and would make Judaism come alive for the nervous and excited campers now arriving by buses,” said faculty dean Rabbi Paul Kipnes.
“Camp is camp is camp is camp. Location is only one part.” — J. staff, with reporting by Alaina Yoakum